This is something I wouldn't want you to know about me. When I heard that a former professor and friendly acquaintance had succumbed to a brutally fast-moving cancer over the weekend, I'm ashamed to tell you what my first thought was. It wasn't about her family or the partner she left behind. It wasn't even sadness at her passing.
My first thought was all about me and how I'd failed.
Ever since I'd heard about her diagnosis a few weeks prior, I'd been meaning to teach out and offer her some love and support. Overwhelmed and struck dumb by her situation, I could never find the words.
While I saw her other friends publishing #fuckcancer posts, I remained quiet. I wanted her to know how much she impacted my life and how grateful I was that our paths had intersected, and I kept telling myself I would send her a note as soon I knew what to say. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't want to sound like an idiot or (worse) like everyone else.
So I kept putting it off, waiting for the muse to visit, and now she's gone and it's too late.
Immediately after I heard the news, two things became clear to me.
- There are no "right words" or perfect phrasing for this kind of situation. She was dying. She wouldn't have cared about originality or elegance. How many unique ways do we need to say You are loved?
- You can't count on having another chance. She was given a three month prognosis just a few weeks ago. I kept telling myself that I had time to get it right. I was wrong.
I know that I'm not alone in standing on the sidelines of life, waiting for the opportune moment to jump in (or worse, to be invited). I know I'm not the only one who would sometimes rather be quiet than risk awkwardness or judgment.
But it's not about me. While I was agonizing over what to say, she was just in agony. Do I really think that she would have cared about anything beyond my presence?
It's too late for me to tell Sandra how much she meant to me, but I can still reach out to her family. I can contact the other people in my life who are fighting their own battles and let them know that I stand with them. I can show up, however imperfectly.
I believe that wherever she is now, she knows what's in my heart. Now it's time for me to check my ego and try my damnedest to make sure that those who are still in the world with me know as well.
Image credit: freeimages.com/Julia Freeman-Woolpert